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toddler learning 2 or more languages

  1. #1
    Sumei is offline Registered User
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    toddler learning 2 or more languages

    hi,

    my 17 month old son has to date only been exposed to English as it is the mother tongue of both my husband and I - we speak English at home and his playgroups and classes are conducted in English. We are very keen for my son to be conversant in 2 languages, English and putonghua (the aim is for him to attend a bilingual pre-school eventually) but was wondering:

    1. when is the best time to introduce putonghua? (I know people say the earlier the better but now there seem to be evidence to the contrary so I'm confused!!!)

    2. would introducing both cantonese and putonghua to him confuse him further? do I have to do it step by step, ie putonghua first and then later on cantonese? (the priority is of course English, then putonghua, then cantonese)

    Thanks alot in advance!

  2. #2
    spsmok is offline Registered User
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    Hi Sumei,

    I am not sure if there is a "best time" to introduce a 2nd language. I started my daughter with both English & Cantonese at birth. When I talk to her, I stick to one language at a time. I don't mix the two in one sentence, which is very common in HK.

    When she was 1.5 yrs, she started her first English/Putonghua playgroup and that was her first exposure to Putonghua. In her first class, it looked as if she was thinking "What are you talking about?" Then I decided to talk to her in Putonghua at home. But as soon as I said my first Putonghua sentence to her, she said "No." So I did Putonghua rhymes and songs instead. She liked it and was conversant in all 3 languages by the time she was 2.

    What works for one child may not work for another. But I think songs really do magic for my daughter. And I heard my daughter's Putonghua teacher said to another parent, that simply going to the playgroup for a few hours a week is not enough to learn the language. Even if you don't speak it, you should play CDs at home.

    Hope the above info helps.

    Sandy

  3. #3
    Buckeroo is offline Registered User
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    Hi SuMei,

    Quote:
    (I know people say the earlier the better but now there seem to be evidence to the contrary so I'm confused!!!)

    Where have you come across evidence that introducing a second language earlier is not as good? That's really interesting as all materials that I've read so far supports introducing a second language as early as possible.

    The key to learning another language is to have somebody else speak the language exclusively with him (where possible) or set aside a specific time or place where the second language is learned/spoken. Make it a 'natural' learning environment and don't force it. I say this from experience. I was speaking 4 languages by the time I started kindy at 4.5yo--and this was from being exposed to different people who were speaking those languages. My parents certainly were not the types who would enrol me in classes just to learn the languages, but they did make sure that the poeple I was in contact with (family friends, nanny/helpers, grandparents) spoke their own language/dialect naturally when they're with me. Learning languages at an early age helps one speak it more naturally --i.e. with no trace of 'foreign' accent.

    If you are worried about your son being confused (although I wouldn't think he'd be), you might want to try using baby sign language to "bridge" the two (or 3) languages that you are speaking with him --i.e., a single sign for the same concept. This will help your son associate that "ping guo" is "apple." If you want to know more about signing with your baby, you can send me a private message. I'd be happy to share more (we've been doing it with our 17 month-old since he was 8 months and it's helped a lot with his speech development!).

    Good luck!

  4. #4
    Amanda Chen is offline Registered User
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    Smile

    Hi,

    My son is 3 years old; he can speak English, Mandarin and does some baby sign language. And he even picks up some Cantonese from my previous part-time helper last month. So my advice is that doing it as early as you can. I speak to him in Mandarin and do baby sign language and my husband speaks to him in English. Sometime, he even translates my mandarin into English for my husband. I was worry as you do, somehow children will figure out themselves. So just give them the opportunity to expose to the languages that you want him to learn. Now I wish that I did give him more chances to learn Cantonese. Good luck.

    Best regards, Amanda

  5. #5
    Linda&Hanley is offline Registered User
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    a matter of trade-offs

    I am currently studying for a higher degree in linguistics, which covers various aspects of language acquisition. As far as I know, there has been research in bilingualism showing that children learning two or more languages spontaneously in their early years are not progressing as fast as their monolingual counterparts in terms of language development, and that they more or less go through a stage of confusion leading to code mixing in their speech.

    Nevertheless, it doesn't mean that exposing young children to a multi-lingual environment is undesirable,but quite the opposite holds true, because there exists a critical period for learning a language (usually below 12) and the younger the child, the higher the chance of achieving native level competence (starting at 4 could already result in a foreign accent). It is probable that the 'negative consequence' of slower progress and language confusion is just a short-term issue with no far-reaching impact on the child's later development (though awaiting further research effort to prove).

    Hope this helps.

    Linda

  6. #6
    Sumei is offline Registered User
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    hi there,

    thank you all very much for your contributions, esp Linda for your expert views on this. We would like our son to be effectively bilingual in English and putonghua (it's a tough call given my mother tongue is English but he is afterall half Chinese), I think the problem here is that people equate being able to understand and speak a language conversationally to being fully effective in it.

    Linda - is there any materials (books or articles) I should be reading to help me along?

  7. #7
    minidom is offline Registered User
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    bilingual babies

    Hi there

    I just wanted to share with you a really useful resource - I am trying (badly) to rasie my 14 month as English/French and have joined this group of bilingual/trilingual parents who have some excellent experiences and expertise to share.

    Soemtimes there are too many mails but sometimes its a quiet list...

    [email protected]

    Minidom

  8. #8
    Buckeroo is offline Registered User
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    Hi, Linda -- Children who are bilingual might speak later --is that what you meant by "not progressing as fast as their monolingual counterparts in terms of language development"? This is short-term, though, and eventually these kids learn to code-switch quite easily.

    Hi, SuMei -- What would you consider to be fully effective in terms of language acquisition? Just interested. :-)

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